OXNARD, Calif. – Alex Tanney didn't pick a bad landing spot as an undrafted quarterback looking for work. The NCAA record holder for all-time touchdown passes from Monmouth College now gets to study behind the only current starting quarterback in the NFL who went undrafted. He values that time he gets with Tony Romo.
"You look at Tony and what he's done, it's incredible coming from where he came from and being undrafted," Tanney said. "I was just telling somebody earlier, you get to talk to someone like him and you're in a meeting room and you're talking about going through progressions, and you go to this guy to this guy to this guy, and then you talk to him and how he sees it, it's just a little different. He's helped a lot."
Tanney came into Cowboys camp July 21 and has already made an impression, moving up to take some reps with the third-team group along with quarterback Nick Stephens.
The arm strength and accuracy appear to be there, just as they did on the YouTube clip he has up, featuring his trick shots. He's fine with being asked about the video, but he also wants people to know he has skill to go with the trickery.
"I really don't mind it, as long as people understand I would still be where I'm at right now if it wasn't for a YouTube video," he said. "That's the only thing."
Tanney was a three-sport high school athlete who'd go on to play at Monmouth College in Illinois – not to be confused with Miles Austin's alma mater of Monmouth University in New Jersey – and finish his college career with 157 touchdown passes.
He demonstrated enough to sign with Kansas City in June 2012 after going undrafted and spending time in Buffalo, but he injured his finger in the last preseason game with the Chiefs and went to injured reserve the rest of the year before getting released.
That gave the Cowboys an opportunity to bring him in, and he seems to have a feel for the position and doesn't seem overwhelmed by joining the team on such short notice. He said it's difficult to pick up the entire offensive system in just a week, but he values the year of learning and studying in the NFL. He said that helped him understand protection and recognize defenses.
"I'm trying to take it all in," Tanney said. "It's been kind of up and down. I was in Buffalo first, that didn't work out. I was able to be signed by Kansas City, wasn't given a lot of reps, was injured in the preseason. I feel pretty fortunate to be given another opportunity here in Dallas."
Tanney's got an uphill climb to try to make the team. The Cowboys don't need to take a third quarterback on the 53-man roster, and they elected not to have one last year. But if he builds on a strong start to camp, that could change this year.
If anyone understands the difficulties of jumping into a new system and situation, it's Tanney's new head coach, who bounced around the league as a quarterback and played for five different NFL teams.
"It's difficult, but it's part of that position," said head coach Jason Garrett. "You have to spend a lot of time learning the offense when you're a quarterback. You spend extra time watching tape, studying the plan, studying the installation. That's just your life. Particularly when you're a young guy who's not getting a lot of reps, you have to do it even more. He understands that. He's a smart kid. He loves football."
Garrett said he can tell Tanney's a passionate player and has instincts in the pocket. He said Tanney understands immediately when he's taught a read or a progression, as well.
Tanney said his background has helped prepare him to be ready to play at the next level, and he just wants a chance.
"I came from a football family with my dad being a high school football coach for 30-plus years," he said. "My brothers played it. (It helped) watching those guys and being around the game so much, just the simple things of being a quarterback, that's just being accurate, making good decisions and being a leader of the offense."
The upcoming Hall of Fame game should give Tanney that opportunity and enough reps to give the coaches a fair impression. The added preseason game allows the Cowboys' personnel extra time to evaluate Tanney's future with the team.
When asked if Garrett has a soft spot for players in Tanney's position, Garrett said that was his life as a player. He also said Tanney can't worry about his competitors at the position, because with limited reps, all he needs to do is focus on the plays he can put together on tape for the coaching staff.
"The one thing that we constantly try to convey to our team is life is about opportunities," Garrett said, "and there's an opportunity every day for you."